West curtails human rights over fear of terrorism

The politics of fear led governments around the globe to roll back human rights during 2015

European governments have allowed widespread fears about migration and terrorism to erode their commitment to civil rights and liberal ideals, according to a new report by the advocacy group Human Rights Watch.

“Blatant Islamophobia and shameless demonizing of refugees have become the currency of an increasingly assertive politics of intolerance,” Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, wrote in an essay in the group’s annual World Report, the 26th it has published.

“The fear of terrorist attacks and the potential impact of the influx of refugees has led to a visible roll-back of human rights in Europe and other regions,” commented Kenneth Roth, the director of Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The 2016 report says human rights in Europe have suffered as a result of the terrorist attacks in France and the ongoing migrant crisis.

The report, released in Istanbul, praised Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany for demonstrating “remarkable leadership” in the face of one of the largest refugee crises in history — the exodus of four million Syrians from a civil war that began in 2011 — but it criticized European countries for erecting razor-wire fences, restricting movements across borders and trying to deflect the problem by pledging 3 billion euros, or about $3.25 billion, to Turkey to help stem the flow of refugees.

Policymakers in the US and Europe are using the terrorist threat as an opportunity to expand law-enforcement powers, including mass surveillance, Human Rights report noted. “That would significantly undermine privacy rights without any demonstrated increase in the ability to curb terrorism. Indeed, in a number of recent attacks in Europe, the perpetrators were known to law enforcement authorities, but the police were too overwhelmed to follow up, suggesting that what’s needed is not more mass data but more capacity to pursue targeted leads”, Human Rights Watch said.

“The tarring of entire immigrant or minority communities, wrong in itself, is also dangerous,” Roth said. “Vilifying whole communities for the actions of a few generates precisely the kind of division and animosity that terrorist recruiters love to exploit.”

Human Rights Watch urged the European Union to expand refugee resettlement programs and to issue humanitarian visas in “places of first refuge,” like Lebanon (for Syrian refugees) and Pakistan (for Afghan refugees).

Nearly 3,800 people, a third of them children, drowned in the Mediterranean while trying to reach Europe last year, and a more humane and orderly process would make it easier to keep out terrorists, the group said.

It also urged the Persian Gulf states and Russia, along with countries that traditionally take in many migrants, like Australia, Canada and the United States, to accept more.

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